Letter from Within

Gilberto Capone Saldaña Sr. | Ferguson Unit, Midway, Texas

As I heard the election results on my radio, with all of my carnales and friends anticipating the outcome for our country’s presidency on Tuesday night, and heard the announcement that the 44th president of the US would be Barack Obama, I found myself fighting back my excitement as I thought of just how far we have come as a country. I thought about growing up in my beloved barrio of Los Encinos, and about my parents and grandparents who lived through harsher and a more discriminative time than I did.

I thought about traveling to visit my Aunt Margarita and Uncle David and my grandparents and how I would always hear about discrimination and about the Chicano power movements. I thought about my cousin Paul and how he always taught me about the Chicano power movements, and that he wasn’t able to live long enough to see this historic day. I wish he were still alive.

I thought about the day in seventh grade world history class when a white classmate shouted, “Wetbacks, go back to Mexico!” on the morning after a Brown Beret Chicano activist was shot and killed by the California Police department during a peaceful and non-violent civil rights protest that was the first fight of many to come that I would be involved in. I thought about the Brown Berets Chicano movements and the mass meetings and public protests that were held, and the Chicano power cries throughout the cities and the country to protest against discrimination. Fighting for the rights of farm workers by civil rights leader César Chavez. I remember when I went with a friend to his home and I overheard his mother saying to him that she didn’t want that “little Mexican boy” inside her house. I thought about how I use to have a heavy Mexican accent when I talked English and being embarrassed about it. But later, I learned to embrace my ancestry, and built up my resolve and sense of pride because I refused to be anglocized the way they wanted.

I thought about how I was judged solely by the color of my skin and not by my character. Or my merits, or my talents, or whatever else I could offer the world. I though about how in the early years of high school, being lucky to get enrolled in the only art studio class the school had to offer, and having to explain why I was there- that I was talented and intelligent enough to be a part of this special class. I thought about all the wonderful opportunities that I have been afforded in my 45 years and the opportunities I was denied because of my race and the color of my skin.

I thought about how because of genocide and assimilation, our people for the most part have lost almost all connections to our native roots and identities, our language, our culture, our heritage, and sacred religious beliefs and practices. I thought about my mom and dad who are alive and if they acknowledge the enormous significance and realize that they lived to see and be part of the greatest moment in our country’s history. I have never cast a vote, and I now witnessed the power of voting. Someday, I hope to cast my very first vote. Because I also have a dream, my dream is that one day one of my own race, a native Aztekah-Mexicah-Mexicayotl, will become our President. I dream that I live to see that historical day. If not, I hope that my dream will carry on through the visions, hopes, and dreams through the descendents of my families.

Latina Leader Makes Educational Headway within the UC System

Rosa Pimentel in her office surrounded by pictures of her past students.
(Photo by Katrina Vo)

It was 28 years ago when Rosa Pimentel transferred to UCLA from East Los Angeles College. As a student worker in the UCLA admissions office she discovered a passion for making education accessible.

“Could I ever have dreamt of being­ an associate director in this office back then?” Pimentel asked. “No, that was so far removed when I stepped into this office as a student worker.”

Paperwork is stacked on Pimentel’s desk, and photos of past students blanket her office wall, a testament to her commitment and long­-standing career in undergraduate admissions. “On a bad day I look at one of the pictures on my wall, and I think: ‘I remember when that kid came into UCLA, and they were so fresh and so young, and now I know them and they’re a doctor, they’re a lawyer.’ ”

Pimentel’s workload has increased significantly with the rise in admissions applications for 2012. According to the University of California Office of the President, UCLA admissions have reached a record high of 91,512 students.

While receiving more applications than any other UC, admissions has had to adjust to the sudden retirement of Dr. Vu Tran as the admissions director. This follows the recent retirement of two associate directors and the vice chancellor of student affairs. With the core managers of admissions all leaving relatively at the same time, Pimentel and her staff have had to take on more leadership responsibilities.

“I’m very much appreciative of the fact that they recognize that I’m a leader and that I have experience,” said Pimentel. “I feel it’s a huge responsibility, and I try to do my best to represent the entire office.”

Early on, Pimentel helped to coordinate the Mariposa Project, which focused on outreach to Latino students in the East Los Angeles area, as well as co­-coordinating the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) with the current director Dr. Debra Pounds.

When EAOP was moved out of undergraduate admissions in the late ’90s, Pimentel decided to stay in admissions to ensure that there was still sensitivity towards first generation and low­ income students.

“These were already kids that had to grow up very quickly, deal with very serious issues in their lives,” said Pimentel. “They wanted an education, and their parents wanted that for them, I felt very passionate about that and that was the main reason why I wanted to stay in admissions.”

When proposition 209 passed in 1996, it outlawed the use of affirmative­ action criteria in admissions, replacing it with the “holistic” review method, in which personal and academic achievements are considered, that was introduced in 2007. Pimentel has a front row seat to the shifting admissions criteria, which is information that doesn’t always trickle down to community college and high school counselors.
According to Pimentel, working at UCLA has been difficult and challenging at times, but she attributes her longevity to the fundamental values and beliefs instilled in her as a child.

A Los Angeles native, Pimentel has lived in the East Los Angeles area for most of her life: first living in Lincoln Heights, then moving to Estrada Courts in Boyle Heights with her grandmother, mother and sister.

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Pimentel’s grandmother worked in a garment factory and never received a high school education. “What I learned from her was really to trust yourself,” said Pimentel. “If you allow yourself to grow, then you don’t see any little setbacks as failures.”

Pimentel recalls how her mom always ensured there was a good environment for her to study at home when she was growing up. “You know things happen in the projects; there’s always some drama going on outside, but she always made sure that it was quiet,” said Pimentel.

Despite not having a car, Pimentel’s mother would take them to explore the city by using public transportation. Pimentel remembers how as a preteen her mother would ask her to map out the routes to places they would visit.

“She would say, ‘How do we get to Disneyland? How do we get to Magic Mountain?’ or ‘How do we get to Santa Barbara?’ ” Pimentel would then do the research and make the necessary phone calls to plan their trips out using public transit.

Her mother later revealed that she took them on these trips because she didn’t want them to feel trapped or restricted to their neighborhood. “I thought she was the most brilliant person,” said Pimentel. While the destinations were fun, it was the long bus ride that provided Pimentel the opportunity to see a world outside of her neighborhood.

Going to the Lincoln Heights public library was a weekly event for Pimentel and her sister. Her mother would have them check out ten books every week and read them aloud to her. At age ten, Pimentel was reading at a twelfth grade level. She recalls reading literary classics from authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and John Steinbeck.

Tears welled up in Pimentel’s eyes as she remembered how at age ten her mother revealed to her that she couldn’t read or write. “I knew she must have had a hard life and that people made fun of her and disregarded her,” said Pimentel. “It just made me want to study more; it just became more important for me to be the one to honor her.”

While living in Boyle Heights, Pimentel attended Lincoln High School and recalls how despite her aspirations to go to UCLA, her counselors would underestimate her. “In high school, I had counselors who didn’t believe I should be in AP or honors courses and that hurt me back then,” said Pimentel. “My first choice was UCLA, but everybody told me that because I was so shy and quiet in high school that I would flunk out because it was too big.”

After being excluded from an AP Biology class, Pimentel’s friends advocated on her behalf and eventually convinced the teacher to let her in. While Pimentel never discovered why she had initially been excluded from the class, she continued to take AP and honors courses at Lincoln, receiving A’s and B’s.

As the first in her family to finish high school, Pimentel recalled the pain when her grandmother died before getting to see her graduate.

Transforming grief into a source of strength and resilience, Pimentel continued her education by going to East Los Angeles College, transferring to UCLA and eventually graduating.

“Sometimes you feel like you fail, but you really haven’t,” said Pimentel. “You have different thresholds in life where you experience things, and you have to pick yourself up and move forward.”

Many of the challenges that Pimentel experienced as a student are still prevalent today. According to 2009­-10 California Department of Education First Annual Report on Dropouts in California, Latinos have a dropout rate of 22.7% and 31.1% for English learners. Only 26.5% of Latinos who graduate high school complete UC and/or CSU entrance course requirements.

According to Pimentel, “All the statistics are pointing to: you shouldn’t have made it this far.” She added that having the confidence to continue pursuing higher education can be difficult in an environment where there aren’t many examples or role models to look to.

“Sometimes people need to see examples of people; how they gain their inner strength, how they cope with life.”

While Pimentel acknowledges that as a student worker she learned a lot from people in admissions, she still felt that something was lacking.

“There really wasn’t a Latina in a higher level position for me to look up to when I was a student,” she said. As the admissions office continues to be restructured, Pimentel remains optimistic about the future and offers her recommendations.

“What I really hope for UCLA is that we continue to diversify the leadership in all areas at the top.”

Prosperity Needed in California

States are taking matters into their own hands arguing the 10th amendment to address immigration because the federal government has not passed an immigration law in the past 15 years. Critics claim it is due to the fear of losing political capital, as Russell Pearce, the author of the infamous SB1070 experienced when he became the first Arizonian elected politician to be recalled. I admire him for addressing such a controversial topic. However I disagree with Arizona’s and other anti-immigrant copy-cat laws such as Georgia’s House Bill 87 and Alabama’s House Bill 56 that have been adopted.

Luckily, California has the opposite stance: Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes has created an initiative known as California Opportunity Prosperity Act (COPA) that failed to receive the 504,760 signatures required and will not be on California’s November 2012 Ballot.

Despite the initiative’s lack of signatures, COPA is sure to return and will act as a call to action for the federal government to address the immigration topic. Therefore, it is important to stay informed.

COPA caters to undocumented individuals who have filed California tax returns for the most recent year, knows or is learning English, has no felony convictions and are not employed by any federal or state government agency. In addition to these requirements, eligible undocumented individuals must have been California residents since January 1, 2008. Assuming the federal government complies, COPA will help these eligible individuals work without the fear of being deported while they contribute to the state economy. Eligible undocumented individuals will have to re-apply for COPA every five years.

Undocumented immigrants already contribute $7 billion in Social Security per year to the US through the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITIN is issued by the IRS to individuals who do not qualify for a social security number, in order to comply with the U.S. tax laws (United States, IRS General ITIN Information). Unfortunately, ITIN does not allow undocumented individuals to work in the US, receive social security benefits nor the earned income tax credit. Basically, undocumented individuals do not receive anything in return (United States, IRS General ITIN Information).

COPA will act as a catalyst and encourage undocumented workers to pay state income taxes. It is estimated that COPA will bring a million new taxpayers and will contribute approximately $325 million annually which would be used to fund state (police and fire etc.) services, based on a UCLA NAID Center research report by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda and Marshall Fitz.

Clearly, COPA will benefit the state; however, what about the individual?
Unfortunately, undocumented individuals will continue to be ineligible for welfare benefits as stated by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act except for medical emergencies, nor will COPA grant citizenship or amnesty. COPA members will only gain the freedom to work without the fear of deportation with this relief, undocumented individuals will not be afraid to invest in their self-improvement via education.

Despite the expected benefits COPA will contribute to the state and to the individual; there are still a few obstacles in its path. Firstly, COPA has not made it to the California Ballot and would still need to garner enough signatures and be voted on. Secondly, since immigration does not fall under the state’s jurisdiction, if COPA were to pass, California would need to ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make these eligible individuals and their families their lowest priority in deportations.
If COPA passes in California, it will set a great example for other states to follow and force the federal government to finally take a stand. Enough time has passed and action needs to be taken. It is in California’s best interest to adopt COPA not only for our economy but also for the benefits it would provide the state’s undocumented inhabitants.

“Perfect Participation”

Illustration by Jonathan Horcasitas.

After I received my very first “I voted today” sticker, I felt that I didn’t quite grasp the concept of politics and I never understood why people felt so passionately about it.

As I’ve grown in my academic career and become more aware about the world around me, I’ve realized how important one vote can be to the future of the entire country. This year, the campaigns for possible presidential candidates have pushed for the support of the Latino community – but who exactly are they targeting?

Now that I am more appealing as a Latina voter, I feel even more uncertain about my choices for the election.

Entering into a world of professionals and academics, I wanted to explore why my vote matters in the first place.

To make more sense of my thoughts on the upcoming election, I decided to speak to a professional Latina, UCLA’s Chicano Literature professor Marissa López, about her outlook on the upcoming election.

One issue that we both agreed has gotten much attention and needs to be addressed is immigration.

“I feel that the Republican Party has the power to drive immigration policy into a very ugly place, and for me that is my primary concern,” she said.

This is a common issue amongst Latinos, especially with the implementation of the DREAM Act and initiatives that are meant to help immigrants. However, it seems that these issues cannot be conquered simply by one president. Professor López elaborated on why she felt immigration issues have not been resolved in the Obama administration.

“I feel that the president is a figure-head who cannot necessarily do that much on his own. Obama, whom we thought would be good for immigration, actually turned the tide on immigration policies since the Bush administration, and as a result deportation has actually increased,” she said.

Her comment resonated with me because I also believe that immigration is an extremely large issue for the United States and it has been a difficult obstacle to tackle. I know that in my family, immigrating to the United States was the only option for a better life – which I still believe holds true today. That is why I believe people should not be refused the right to come to a country with better opportunities for their future.

However, I feel that because candidates are seeking the Latino Vote, their campaigns are catering to Latino issues only as a means to an end: to be the next President of the United States.

But do any of the candidates truly appear to be fighting for immigrants? Or are they blatantly using them as tools for their own personal gain?

“Well, the honest answer is that Latinos are instrumentalized in politics, but will hopefully become a big enough economic and tax-base that people will have to pay attention. I can’t really see how any of the things I am concerned about are being addressed. However, there has been a little bit of movement on the Federal DREAM Act,” said Professor López.

Although voters are targeted and used as tools for votes – there is also a great sense of voter apathy. Most of the time, I feel as though people are checking off a bunch of boxes for people and things that they have never even heard of.

Voter ignorance is what concerns me most. I felt this way when I first turned 18, and I feel this way now going into the next election because I want to be knowledgeable about ALL of things I vote for. However, Professor López had a very different opinion about the first time she voted and the way she feels about it now.

“I used to follow presidential politics very closely, but after years of doing that, I am more convinced that it’s a show. It’s hard for me to follow presidential politics in the way that people do. It feels like reality TV, it is reality TV – it’s even packaged that way,” she said.

As far as televised debates are concerned, I can’t say I enjoy them much because it always seems to amount to bickering and disagreement. Because the debates are so sensationalized, it has made them more popular because they appeal to the emotions of the audience, ultimately entertaining them.

“I may say that I’ve become more jaded about politics, but at the same time that is our governing system. And Cesar Chavez said ‘We don’t need perfect political systems, we need perfect participation.’ I believe this to be true. I will vote like I’ve done every year. We have a participatory government even if it doesn’t work out the way we want it to; it’s really about individual choice. People are always smarter than the ‘media’ gives them credit for,” said Professor López.

I agree with Professor López that voting is vital to our government, and that it is the participants that make a difference in the future of this nation. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I don’t get caught up in the sensationalism of the media that will reduce me to simply a pawn in the game of politics.

I know that my vote is important and I want to be counted. But, I know that if I don’t ask the right questions, or worse, let someone make the decisions for me – I will be just as bad as the apathetic voter. The only question I am left with is – who will convince me that they’re worth my vote?

Latino Student Finds Safe Space at UCLA

To the reader: Justin is pseudonym because the subject of the article does not wish to reveal his real name.

Justin has to dress cute for whatever occasion; otherwise, he would need to go shopping. His clothing is a way of expressing himself. However, Justin has to be cautious about how he dresses in particular settings because he wants to protect his gay identity. Justin is only open about his sexual identity when he is here at UCLA, but when he is at home he goes back into the closet.

When Justin is at home, he puts on a different face because he does not feel ready to tell his parents about his sexuality. He grew up in a religious, conservative household with his family having strong feelings towards homosexuality. Justin has a hard time expressing himself to his family, and he only shares his secret with his closest friends from high school. Justin has been able to reveal his sexuality not only to his friends, but also share it with the UCLA community. UCLA is a safe space to him. He says, “I’m openly gay because I’m able to be openly gay. Nobody says anything about me being gay here. UCLA is mostly White and Asian and these racial groups are more open than the Latino community.”

Even though UCLA has made Justin feel more comfortable about his sexuality; he also has experiences that alter his racial identity. Most UCLA students assume that Justin is white, and he has accepted being white. He says, “I’m white because people [at UCLA] think I’m white by the way I talk and look, but I still perceive myself as Mexican.”  He does not bother to correct people on their assumptions, because racial identity does not really matter to him at UCLA. Justin does not know a lot of Latinos at UCLA as much as he does at home. His Latino identity has been a reason he keeps his sexuality a secret. He feels that all Latinos are homophobic so he chooses not to associate with other Latinos on campus. Justin says, “My Latino family has been openly homophobic so I’m wary about other Latinos believing in the same thing.”

It seems as though Justin is living two separate lives. In one world he is gay and in another he is “straight.” Claiming to be Mexican-Nicaraguan at home and among the Latina/o community lets him think about himself in another way. If not, his family and other Latinos would just perceive him as gay. He says, “In the Latino community [family included], I use the hyphenated Mexican-Nicaraguan label to identify myself. As for my sexuality, I am straight—or at least try to be.” At home, he puts sexuality aside and convinces his family that he is heterosexual, but at UCLA he is most comfortable expressing himself and sharing a part of him that he has not been able to do at home.

Although Justin’s family may not approve of his sexuality, he still plans to tell them one day. He says, “I am not going to hide who I am my whole life. I’m just waiting for the right time.”

The Struggle We All Share

I’m not your typical La Gente writer. I’m white, I don’t speak any Spanish other than what I’ve picked up by living in Southern California my whole life, and quite frankly, the issues that affect much of the Latino community are things that will never affect me in a deeply personal or direct way.

And yet, I realize that the success of your community’s fight for equality and respect is intrinsically linked with a community that is both part of yours and mine. As a gay person, I am fighting for equality and respect as well.

I first realized I was gay when I was 16. As a white middle-class teenager, I never had much that made me feel different. I got along with my parents as well as any teenager could, I did homework, and I was just trying to make it through high school alive. But when I fell in love with a girl, I came to terms with the fact that I was no longer the cookie-cutter girl I saw myself as, and like it or not, I was now tagged as an “other” in a way that I had never felt before.

My otherness began as a teenager, but for many people, they feel like an “other” their entire lives. It became clear to me that while my rights were threatened and stigmatized for the first time in my life, many people of different backgrounds had been fighting this battle long before me.

The gay community is one founded on diversity. It is a segment of every community, whether it is a religious, national, or ethnic community. So why does the queer community often neglect other groups, like the Latino community. We are inherently linked with them, not only because we both deal with oppression and political struggles, but more importantly, the very nature of the gay community is a part of the Latino community as well.

Unfortunately, the gay community does not do a good job of publicly proclaiming this intersectionality. Our gay right’s activists are predominantly white and wealthy (I’m looking at you, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres), which leads to the pre-conceived notion that those are the only people who care about gay rights, or even more problematic, that only white people are queer.

Aside from celebrity representation, which is overwhelmingly white, male, and sassy, even the Equality California web site indicates that most people leading our fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation lacks people of color, which is surprising in California, one of the most diverse states in the nation.

So many queer people proudly display their “No on Prop 8” bumper sticker on the back of their cars, but how many are fighting in favor of the DREAM Act, or simply becoming socially conscious of other identity issues that people face? If it is only white people fighting for the gay community, it makes it easy to ignore other minority’s concerns, because for white queer people, their only “minority” label is their sexuality.

For people that only deal with limited forms of oppression, it is easy to focus on just one issue, learn all about it  – and while not realizing, or even worse, choosing to ignore all other countless forms of discrimination that need to be tackled, and more importantly, how all forms of discrimination are connected.

Although there used to be a stigma against homosexuality in the predominantly Catholic Latino community, that stigma is quickly shattering. According to the Huffington Post, 59% of Latinos believe homosexuality should be accepted. Celebrities like Sofia Vergara and Naya Rivera have spoken out publicly (and in Rivera’s case, played a teen lesbian on Glee) in support of the gay community. Yet, there seems to be little reciprocation from the dominant White Gay Male sector of the gay rights movement.

It starts with making intersectionality the forefront of our movement. The fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation does not happen in a bubble void of any other struggle, and to deny that is only going to hinder both the gay community and any other minority’s fight. That all people fighting for gay rights need to educate themselves about other institutionalized forms of oppression, even if those forms of oppression do not directly affect them.

I will never have to face the obstacles posed by skin color or citizenship that occurs from being part of an ethnic minority. But indirect oppression for some becomes oppression for us all. Regardless of what type of “other” we see ourselves as, it is important that the queer community interacts with, educates, and embraces the Latino community and all minority communities in order to advance all of our fights.

OutWrite is a multi-platform progressive news channel for plugged-in, passionate LGBTQ youth at the UCLA campus. Visit their website at outwritenewsmag.org

Political Apathy vs. Political Awareness

“Opportunity” The image portrays a couple looking through a glass pane. The areas behind the glass are simplified and very subtractive. An open section in the glass shows their faces clearly and actually places part of the glass barrier behind them signifying the forward approach to the opportunities available to them. Previously published in La Gente’s Fall 2011 Opportunity Issue. Painted by Jose Loza. Numbers from the political survey by Maria Teresa Armendariz Guerra.

Karla: “Ugh! I hate these ads! Why do they waste my time?”
Me: “Well, it is that time of the year, election season.”
Karla: “Yeah, that is a waste of my time too.”

That was a conversation my roommate and I had one night while watching television. The extent of our conversation was short, yet it was enough to get me wondering: what did Karla mean when she said that elections were a “waste” of her time? Weren’t the aim of election ads to motivate viewers to vote in the upcoming elections rather than make a person change the channel in disgust?

When first starting this article, I wanted to gather a detailed consensus on the Latina/o student vote, who was going to vote for which candidate and why? But instead of answers in favor of the Democratic or Republican candidate, I received a lot of shrugs and head shakes accompanied with “I don’t know” and “I don’t plan on voting.”

My roommate is not the only UCLA student who I know who has expressed apathy in regard to the upcoming 2012 presidential election. As a Chicana/o Studies major, I am constantly in conversation with students who have well-established opinions on political and social issues such as immigration reform and international relations with Mexico.

But the prospect of voting in November? Forget it. A lot of students, even beyond the Chicana/o Studies department, are showing severe signs of apathy when it comes to engaging in the upcoming election and choosing to vote.

Miguel Murillo, a third-year transfer Chicana/o Studies and Women’s Studies double-major, is unable to vote due to his legal permanent resident status. Despite this, he makes an effort to stay informed on mainstream politics and the upcoming election, though he’s observed that fellow Bruins seem less interested. “I think majority of professors try to stress the importance of politics, voting, and the upcoming election but I’ve heard a lot of students use the excuse that they are too busy with school to stay informed,” stated Miguel. “Also, not seeing real, tangible change in society has discouraged students.”

That is not to say that every student holds no interest in politics. I attended the Janet Napolitano protest at UCLA earlier in the quarter. The group of supporters consisted of members from various organizations based on campus and in the greater LA community. Majority of students were not open to discuss the election at the event, which is understandable, considering we were there for a specific reason. Yet, if a political rally is not the place to discuss the upcoming election, then where can I find other UCLA students willing to talk about it?

“UCLA is a reflection of what we can see happening in Latino communities across the nation.  People have jobs, financial worries, familial responsibilities, community activities, and just generally struggle to survive. So it may be hard to stay on top of political news,” said Pepe Aguilar-Hernandez, a Chicana/o Studies TA and PhD graduate student. “The biggest group of students I saw politicize the campus during the 2008 presidential election was UCLA IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success). Even though undocumented students are unable to vote, they tend to stress the importance of voting to those that can. Hopefully there can be the same movement of Latino student voters centered on voting as an act of solidarity to their communities.”

If daily obligations and a sense of disappointment about Obama’s first term are discouraging Latino students to vote en masse, how can they make their opinions effective in mainstream politics?  “The important thing to realize is that there are other means of political mobilization. Students may choose to work in non-profit organizations, produce political commentary via the arts, film, and education trajectories,” stated Aguilar-Hernandez. “There are different ways to create political change within the community instead of voting and students are creatively seeking them out.”

There are several factors to consider to why there is an atmosphere of apathy amongst Latino student voters.  Students might be intentionally isolating themselves from mainstream politics because they feel discouraged.  Or students might have a hectic school, work, and life schedule that does not allow time to catch up with election news.  Whatever the reason, the Latina/o student on campus needs to make an effort to exercise the citizen right to vote because the reason of “I don’t have time for politics” is not good enough.

“Undocumented. Unafraid. And Now Undercover.”

“How much is this going to cost me?” The young woman represents the strength students have in order to get by with their educational and everyday lives. The social security card with dollar signs replacing the numbers is a reminder of what those nine little numbers can mean financially and the hurdles you face for not having them. Previously published as the cover of La Gente’s Fall 2010 Immigration Issue. Painted by Jose Loza.

After a three day drive to Alabama from East Los Angeles, Jonathan was finally confronting his biggest fear. Reflecting on his anxiety at the time, he chuckles and said, “I felt like I had been taken back to medieval times, and was in a dark dungeon about to face a dragon.” The goal was not only to enter the border patrol office and get arrested but also to get deported.

According to many immigration and human rights community organizers, the Obama administration failed to meet its promise to end the separation of families and deportation of people with no criminal convictions. Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims to “prioritize the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators,” routinely people with no criminal records are being deported for minor infractions or traffic law violations. So on Thursday, November 10, 2011, Jonathan Perez, 20, and Isaac Barrera, 24, two undocumented immigrants, walked into a Border Patrol Office in Mobile, Alabama purposely seeking arrest. Jonathan and Isaac wanted to challenge immigration authorities and the fear that currently paralyzes undocumented communities. It is a fear that has intensified since Obama came into office—according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Obama has deported nearly 400,000 people every year, surpassing the deportation rate of every president before him.

Jonathan and Isaac have been part of civil disobediences before, but this one was unlike any they had ever participated in before. This was an attempt to challenge the immigration system literally from the inside, by organizing within detention centers. As two DREAM Act eligible students, they aimed to attract not only media attention via their deportation, but ultimately to gather the stories of undocumented people who were now detained and in the process of deportation.

Once in the office, Jonathan accused two officers of separating families and of deporting innocent people. After defending the deportation of undocumented immigrants, one of the officers asked, “What is it to you, anyways?” And Jonathan replied, “Because I am undocumented too!” He was arrested and sent to detention.

Once searched and finger printed, they were transferred to a prison in New Orleans where they spent the next five days. After which, they were transferred to the Basile detention center in Southern Louisiana, where they would spend another five days detained with 70 others.

While at the detention center, they spent endless hours speaking to people and trying to provide them with information to fight their deportation and “Know Your Rights” workshops.

“As soon as we got to the detention center we did what we know best: organize. We began talking to people and gathering their stories. We wrote down how and why they had gotten detained, and to where they were getting deported. Many of them were there for minor offenses like driving without a license,” recounted Jonathan. “It’s sad, because they all have families, but with the help of the Undocumented Youth Action and Resource Network, we connected many of them with their families and with our lawyers. Mind you, prior to our arrest, we had fundraised a lot. Phone calls are expensive in there, five dollars a minute! But the Undocumented Youth Action and Resource Network provide the funding for that.”

Prior to Jonathan and Isaac’s arrest, the Undocumented Youth Action and Resource Network (dreamactivist.org), a Los Angeles-based organization had been working tirelessly to fundraise and secure community support to launch a national campaign on their behalf.

“You know what was so amazing? That as soon as people heard that we were from California and intentionally entered the detention center, people began to organize among themselves,” said Jonathan. “They gave out our information to one another and that’s how we got more and more people coming up to us providing their stories.”

Unlike many at the detention center, both Jonathan and Isaac were DREAM Act eligible and as soon as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) verified their eligibility, deportation proceedings were dropped. According to Obama’s administration in August 2011, people deemed “low priority” deportees—such as DREAM Act youth, non-criminals and people with family ties to the United States—would not be deported.

“The most impactful moment was when the guards called our beds for release. As we gathered our things to leave everyone crowded around our bed. They came to me asking if I could help them get out, so I quickly tried to write down their information,” said Jonathan. “The look they gave me was incredible…I had never been looked that way in my life, their eyes were filled with so much desperation and hope.”

Getting teary-eyed, Jonathan said, “You should have seen their faces, the way they looked at me. I wanted to stay and help them in any way I could. We were leaving and returning to our families just in time for Thanksgiving, while they all had to stay behind.”

Jonathan continues to advocate for undocumented youth through the Undocumented Youth Action and Resource Network. He hopes that his experience at the detention center will bring awareness to the mass deportations of undocumented people, and the criminalization of both Black and Brown communities. Jonathan believes that the criminalization of communities of color has become a state sanctioned project that seeks to terrorize communities. In an effort to refute this, Jonathan urges undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and organize—“We are less vulnerable when we come together.”

 

 

From the Incan Empire to UCLA: Preserving Quechua

Professor Luz Maria de La Torre, lecturer at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Latin American Institute. Photo by Monica Ponce de Leon.

Quechua, or Kichwa, a language that seemed to be on the path to oblivion, is now emerging among UCLA students. Professora Luz Maria De La Torre and her students are on the road to preserving and bringing cultural awareness of this language to the UCLA campus. All it takes is a allpa muyu, or a little grain of sand, from each individual to form a collective effort to conserve Quechua.

Quechua was the language of the Incan empire and is spoken in countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador. There are about 8.5-11 million people speaking the language or related dialects, which makes this the most widespread native language in Latin America. Many words in Spanish are derived from Quechua, such as papá (potato) or cuy (guinea pig) and even some words used in the English language like coca, cóndor, and llama.

Professor Luz Maria De La Torre kindly shared her life story about how she found herself teaching the language of her people.

An indigenous Ecuadorian woman born and raised in the small town of Otavalo, she describes her life growing up. “Siendo una mujer indígena es complicado socialmente… no éramos consideradas como seres humanos … [surgimos] de cenizas, de la parte más oscura, [algo que fue] realmente una experiencia maravillosa,” said De La Torre.

Education was the key to battling the discrimination and disempowerment that haunted her society for thousands of years. Profesora De La Torre obtained a Master’s Degree in political science from Facultad Lationoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Ecuador and studied linguistics and sociology in Paris V.
She claims her parents had much to do with her achievements in higher education. “Aunque mis padres nunca aprendieron a leer y a escribir siempre estuvo en sus sueños que nosotros como una generación nueva aprendiéramos a leer; no solamente que leyéramos las palabras sino que leyéramos la vida,” said de la Torre.

While her studies began in political science, she realized that her allpa muyu to the community came from another field. “Los maestros en la universidad en sus estadísticas siempre nos decían: ‘los indígenas ya han desaparecido y ni existen, había un genocidio,’” she said. “Y cuando comenzamos a explorar esa gran pregunta…Vimos que en realidad habían millones de indígenas pero muchos estaban ocultos.”
Through this discovery, Profesora de La Torre was motivated to teach Quechua, which mirrored her goals. “Es un trabajo de rescate de nuestra lengua y nuestra cultura pero sobretodo es para elevar ese autoestima de esa presencia de los indígenas,” she said.

Profesora De La Torre expressed the unfortunate reality of discrimination against the indigenous in the community. “[Vimos] que nuestros padres [y] nuestros abuelos sufrían discriminación, inclusive ahora de profesional éra tratada como doméstica. Se me acercaban frecuentemente a ofrecerme trabajos de lavadora de ropa o de lavandera cocinera,” she said. She desires to bring awareness  about this culture that is usually underestimated and treated unjustly.

In the hopes of establishing a method for teaching Quechua to a wide array of people, the professor and her students work with the Peruvian and Bolivian consulates in Los Angeles to coordinate projects of cultural awareness. De La Torre claims she started teaching without any curriculum. “Por aquí hemos empezado sin materiales, pero en estos tres años de experiencia vamos organizando ciertas situaciones académicas mas ordenadas,” she said.

In addition, the professor is planning to organize her first study abroad program for 2013-2014. “Ecuador y en el futuro podamos a extender a los Andes: Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia sean nuestros sitios,” she said with a smile. She proudly talks about some of her students who have already decided to go abroad. She says,  “Está haciendo (la estudiante) su disertación doctoral en una comunidad en Otavalo de donde yo provengo realmente me da tanto orgullo.”

The fact that UCLA offers Quechua is a one of a kind opportunity. It is up to students and individuals who understand the value of this ancient language to take a stand to learn and conserve it.

Just like sand is composed of millions of grains, the study of Quechua needs many students to contribute their grain of sand to form a collection of developing ideas.  Profesora De La Torre smiled and said, “Vamos a la carrera así despacio, estamos empezando pero estamos consolidando grandes cosas.”